6/12/2016

Ongoing needs in Kumamoto

 
For the charity concert in Sendai today, I will report on the current situation in Kumamoto. Though unable to visit recently, members of our Tokyo church network or missionary agency have continued to go about every two weeks, following up on needs and new contacts.

CURRENT SITUATION

-Aftershocks less frequent. Fear abating.
-Many need to move but not enough apartments available. Many still live in temporary housing, shelters, or cars.
-Heat making life in shelters unbearable.
-City hall or hospital employees overworked. Many yet to clean and fix own homes.
-Children showing signs of emotional trauma related to earthquake, such as fear of homes or dark areas and worsened mental state exhibited through uncontrollable anger and cursing.
-Reports of food poisoning from cookouts at shelters and hospitals have shut down that work in many places, leaving concerts the main path for relationship building, heart care, and other help. (See "CONNECTING" below.)
-Kyushu Christ Disaster Support Center at Harvest Church building condemned. Headquarters moved to nearby church building with ample parking and facilities, greatly helping relief effort.

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED!

Japanese government responding to widespread need but not equipped to meet needs of individuals or neighborhoods, making individuals volunteers, NPOs, and church networks essential.

DEBRIS REMOVAL - The government cannot remove debris from individual homes and apartments. Some are unable to do it themselves. Often multiple visits by volunteers are needed.

CONNECTING - Many do not know how to receive financial remuneration and other help offered through city hall, NPO's, and church networks. Volunteers pass on news of services available and get forms submitted when necessary.

HEART CARE - Cafes, counseling, concerts, etc. It is difficult for people in Kyushu to show weakness to neighbors. This is true throughout Japan but is strongest in Kyushu, because Christian persecution hit here the strongest. Neighborhoods were broken into groups of five families. Infractions of the law brought punishment, in some cases death, to the whole group. Culture of not sharing true self continues today.

CHILDREN - Programs for children needed!

5/29/2016

White pieces of paper...

(A journal entry by 26-year-old pianist Ellie Honea, who works with us in Tokyo and traveled with us to shelters in Kumamoto.)

White pieces of paper...

I pick them off my shirt, which no longer smells of smoke from outdoor grills or looks muddy from evacuation centers on a rainy morning. Clean, new, fresh...and covered in tiny bits of clean white paper. Not a smudge of ink left. Not a trace of the hastily written note and phone number to remind me of those 10 digits. The bits of paper are like fallen cherry blossoms, a reminder of our fleeting moment of friendship and connection.

I met Narita-san at the top of the stairs as if waiting for me. She gave a grateful sigh when she saw what I was carrying. I had just walked down the hallway of an elementary school-turned-evacuation-center, arms loaded with thin insulated silver mats. The mats are not much, but certainly more comfortable then the thin cardboard sheets or single tarps I see being used as beds in the classrooms around me.

Narita-san quickly guided me through a maze of staircases and hallways to areas of greatest need, sharing her story as we went. Her house was okay, she told me, so she's not staying at the shelter but volunteers as able. Her neighbor's house was marked with a bright red "Don't enter! Condemned!" sign, and she wears a hard hat when she leaves the house, afraid aftershocks will send chunks of debris raining down on her. Her family was also fine, she told me. Her daughter lives in Tokyo, and her grandson just started university. Out of the worry and hurry comes a smile, unique to proud grandparents everywhere.

We stop to chat with two young girls, sitting on a table with legs swinging. I hope this time will stick in their memories as a fun camp-out, where school was cancelled and instead had sleepovers with friends for weeks on end. Narita-san and the girls told me about the school's music teacher, who often serenades students from the piano during lunch time. "Music is wonderful, isn't it?" Actually, I told them, it so happens that our team has three musicians and our van is packed with a violin, keyboard, and portable pipe organ! Maybe we also could play a concert during lunch time?

Narita-san talked with the shelter leader, and an hour later the gym became a concert hall, with pop-tents serving as prime box seats. I silently prayed over the room as rhythms and melodies of Bach and Vivaldi filled cracks of stress on worried faces and pushed out unspoken fears. After the concert, I again found Narita-san, who seemed to share my feeling that we were instantly old friends. We exchanged phone numbers, and I told her to call me if she ever came to Tokyo.

I wonder if she will. I wonder if my phone number is still there in her folder. Even if our relationship is over like this year's cherry blossom viewing, maybe our encounter made as much an impact on her as it had on me. Maybe the encounter will, like cherry blossoms, be all the more precious for its brevity. Maybe she will think back and remember those Christians who floated in with love flowing from black and white keys and vibrating violin strings...

5/14/2016

The People of Kumamoto

KUMAMON - The beloved mascot and symbol of Kumamoto
When people ask "What was Kumamoto like?" I have trouble responding. "It was powerful," I say. "Deep. Life-changing. I want to go back." I often think about the interaction with people in the shelters. To meet such a range of people, engage in deep conversations, and mutually impact each other's lives in just a 3 hour span of time is hard to imagine in times not in crisis. Their stories are hard to forget:

One young lady got married just two weeks before the earthquake. Moving from a faraway city to live with her husband, she now finds herself in a gymnasium with a large number of people where she knows no one and her husband is gone all day. There were two pillows, labelled "bride" and "groom" respectively with their wedding date, placed on a blanket which functioned as their marriage bed.

One 12-year-old girl came up after the concert and played many pieces for us. I was amazed she had so much music memorized, and asked if she had any chance to practice while in the shelter. "No," she said, "Actually, I gave up music when I entered junior high. There's no time for that anymore..." She explained that she was now involved in school clubs along with everybody else, and there was no way to fit in piano. When we left though, she said, "You reminded me of my love for music. I think I'll start up again."

One lady in her late 60's, staying in the shelter with her elderly mother, profusely thanked me for coming and playing. The two of them were so lonely and afraid of the aftershocks. She told me how she goes back to the house now and then to clean up after the earthquake, "but," she said, "I hear things falling and those heavy clay tiles on my roof moving with each aftershock, and it makes me nervous. I can't possibly sleep there." The conversation then suddenly switched to something that had obviously been on her mind, and I received my highest compliment ever! "You remind me of Amakusa Shiro," she said shyly. "I see light shining from you." In 1637, Amakusa Shiro led a rebellion of 37,000 peasants against Christian persecution and overtaxation by a corrupt government in an area near Kumamoto. The Tokugawa Shogunate swept in with an overwhelming number of troops and beheaded all 37,000, roughly half of whom who noncombatant women and children. There was a famous statue of him praying with eyes heavenward not too faraway.

So many more stories...

5/08/2016

Art as an Emergency Supply


Two big earthquakes in 5 years! Each time, I went as a truck driver to deliver emergency water, food, fuel, and supplies...but each time I was asked to come back as an artist, as a musician. Never before have I realized the purpose and power of art. Before it seemed like something "extra," something people do when they have 余裕 (literally: surplus abundance of time, money, energy, etc.) in their lives. But through these disasters, I see that art is essential. Art is one of the essential emergency supplies! Why don't first responder teams include musicians?

The truth is counter-intuitive. People in Tokyo say, "It's too early for musicians. We need to wait until the important things are taken care of." Leaders in shelters say, "I'm not sure we should bring in music," wanting to stick to the basics and protect the people. People in shelters sometimes cover their heads with blankets and turn away from us. Then, we begin to play, and the atmosphere COMPLETELY changes. People stand in line to talk to us. People share their lives with us. They play and sing for us. They cry for us, and remember their humanity with us. NOBODY expects music to have such an effect. What a gift we have been given in music! May we learn as a people how better to embrace it for 人間の繁栄 (literally: everywhere-all-the-time flourishing of humankind).

5/07/2016

Hage no Uta (The Bald Song)

"The next piece is one of Bach's best known works for organ, the "Little" Fugue in G Minor. I would like to dedicate this performance to my friend Brent," I say in a very serious voice. "Brent, would you please stand." Brent, one of the volunteers who came with us, stands. "This piece is probably better known by its other beloved title: 'The Bald Song'." Brent is bald.

As soon as I start to play, everyone in the shelter bursts out laughing. This little tune is known in Japan by the words: "Do you have hair on your head? Mine is fading away. Could I have your hair?" You can watch a video of this song on YouTube, showing famous people losing their hair. (What would Bach think?)


The concerts in shelters were full of humorous moments and serious moments, wondrously opening people's hearts to us.

4/30/2016

Kumamoto Report


Schools start back up on Monday, May 9, following Golden Week holidays. Since most shelters are in schools, they will close at that time. Those who cannot return to their homes will be moved to other shelters, which will remain open an undetermined period of time. Earthquakes currently occur about every 2 hours, so people are still fearful. Water is running in most areas, but many water pipes broke (no wonder when you see the above picture!) contaminating the water supply for the foreseeable future. Food and water is being delivered to grocery stores but run out within hours. Gasoline is available in many areas. Quite a few older people have not been able to clean up their homes, because they are not strong enough and need help. At our four concerts this week, we passed out fliers with contact info for the Kyushu Christian Relief Center at Harvest Church, where volunteers are pouring in from around the country and around the world to meet such needs. At one shelter, we passed out mats to people who were only sleeping on a blue tarp or blanket. There are reports of the Noro virus spreading through shelters. There are reports of radioactivity coming up through cracks in the ground.

Needs are greater in rural areas but harder to get to. The Kyushu Christian Relief Center is sending out teams well over 2 hours each way to these areas with supplies and able hands to move debris. There were over 40 volunteers staying at the Relief Center (with limited running water and only two bathrooms!) but many others stayed in nearby hotels. The hotel we stayed in had running water but no drinking water in the building. There were cracks throughout the walls in our hotel room.

Pastors from all over Kumamoto gathered at the Relief Center this week for the first time since the earthquake to talk about needs in their churches and communities. I sat in for part of the meeting, hearing one pastor talk about his home being severely damaged and his family now living in a shelter. It gave me renewed vision to connect with the artists of Kumamoto, and on Tuesday and Wednesday, I was able to connect with some of them: a classical guitarist, a singer songwriter, a DJ, a pianist, and a outdoor event organizer. They are all doing volunteer work to encourage people in shelters.

Those who find themselves unhurt, with minimal damage to their homes, and supplies of food and water, feel it is their responsibility to respond in some way. A teacher was running one of shelters we visited. PTA moms were running another. Many people in Kumamoto are giving everything of themselves to care for others.
(Photographs by Riz Crescini, CRASH Japan, who we met last week.)

4/29/2016

Relationship Building

Can you imagine staying in a shelter...aftershocks every two hours that powerfully shake the ground beneath your feet, rattling windows, and bringing gasps to everyone around you? Cardboard boxes are everywhere, containing emergency supplies or providing mats for sleeping. Lights are often switched off giving a mysterious cave-like feel to long corridors. Some shelters are dirty with sand walked in from parking lots. Some shelters have no running water or contaminated water at best. Some have nothing but thin tarps to sleep on, but some like the picture above have tents to provide the illusion of privacy. Announcements over speakers are loud and frequent. All of this has a deleterious dehumanizing effect.

The most important part of concerts in shelters is relationship building. First, we have to build trust with the leaders of the shelter by clearly explaining our intentions. ("We are here to help and play music. We are working with a Christian relief center, but we are not here to proselytize.")
Posing post-concert with leaders of a shelter in an elementary school
Then, we have to build trust with people through our music, as we attempt to bring a humanizing effect on a shelter. If we do it right, the music will open doors to relationships. Some people come up to us to learn more about the instruments or music.

Others want to ask questions about our "strange" and foreign lives, giving us an opportunity to ask about theirs. Children accept us as close friends and teach us all kinds of games.

Almost always, someone will approach with the words "I play too!" and share something.

The experience for me was overwhelmingly powerful, even life-changing. Playing music for people who are "doing fine" is like living in a world of black and white, stagnant and meaningless like BGM in a convenience store. What a contrast to a situation like this, where people respond so deeply to the music...with laughter, tears, and memories! This is when the true power and purpose of music is revealed, to bring color and depth to our lives and to help us connect intimately with others. We forget until these things are lost. Music is designed to humanize!